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Strategy 4: Using Scaffolding Techniques

The notion of “scaffolding” is key to effective CBI. Graves and Graves (1994) suggest that the term “scaffolding” was first used in an educational context by Bruner, who used the term “to characterize mothers' verbal interaction when reading to their young children” (p. 2). Defined by Wood, Bruner, and Ross (1976), scaffolding is “a process that enables a child or novice to solve a problem, carry out a task, or achieve a goal which would be beyond his [or her] unassisted efforts” (p. 90). The link to Vygotsky's (1962) “Zone of Proximal Development” (i.e., the distance or cognitive gap between what a learner can do without assistance and what that learner can do with a more capable peer or skilled adult) should be clear. Scaffolding, then, in a nutshell, means support, but “it is the nature of the support—support that is responsive to the particular demands made on [students] learning through the medium of a second language—that is critical for success” (Gibbons, 2002, pp. 10-11).

Building on ideas presented in Echevarria, Vogt, and Short (2004), Fortune (with input from immersion and world language teachers in a graduate class) categorized scaffolding techniques into three types and identified examples of each:

This list of scaffolding techniques is organized into these three categories.

Several of the teaching strategies we highlight in this instructional module are examples of scaffolding techniques. For example, the use of graphic organizers is a scaffolding technique that provides visual support to learners. We find the use of graphic organizers to be such a powerful tool in CBI that we have devoted an entire section to it in this module. Other scaffolding techniques appear in each of the three categories above here. Many will already be familiar to teachers, and others are described or links are provided to further define.

Note to the reader/visitor:
All the units that we have identified as “stellar” CoBaLTT unit examples (see Units and Lessons search page) make use of grouping techniques to scaffold instruction and help alleviate particular difficulties as well as other procedural scaffolding techniques. Following are two examples of how this particular instructional strategy can be utilized:


Jill Pearson’s unit—Chez moi et dans le monde entier: Exploring our use and relationship with water: Lesson 01

Jill does a great job with scaffolding. In Lesson 1 of her unit, which explores the relationship between people and water across the world, she uses a concept map as a scaffolding technique to ensure that learners are well prepared to tackle the scientific content that the theme calls for. In the beginning of the first lesson, Jill asks her students to think about their own perceptions about water (e.g., what it represents to them, what places they associate it with, etc.). This information is then used for an activity where the whole class is engaged in creating a mind map. This scaffold is particularly effective at helping students connect concepts together while exposing them to new vocabulary items (or recycling/revising already learned ones) that they will utilize during the lesson.


Mary Bartolini’s unit—Soy el agua

Mary uses many graphics and advanced graphic organizers as visual scaffolds to ensure that her young learners have the necessary support for them to deal with the particular content of the unit. In Lesson 1 she has a vocabulary matching activity with accompanying pictures, and she uses a KWPL graphic organizer. In Lesson 2, she has 2 more simple graphic organizers to assist her students in categorizing information, and she uses flashcards to add visual support…



Echevarria, J., Vogt, M., & Short, D. (2004). Making content comprehensible for English learners: The SIOP model (2nd ed.). Boston, MA: Pearson Education, Inc.

Fortune, T. (2004). Scaffolding techniques in CBI classrooms. [Online at the CoBaLTT website]

Gibbons, P. (2002). Scaffolding language, scaffolding learning. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.

Graves, M., & Graves , B. (1994). Scaffolding reading experiences: Designs for student success. Norwood, MA: Christopher-Gordon Publishers, Inc.

Met, M. (2002). Expanding on Think, Pair, Share: An Instructional Framework for Scaffolding Oral Language Use by Integrating Oral and Written Modalities. [Online at the CoBaLTT website]

Vygotsky, L. S. (1962). Thought and language. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Wood, D. J., Bruner, J. S., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem-solving. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry, 17(2), 89-100.

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